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Trust and the Parent-Child Relationship

All relationships are based on trust. Children want and need to trust their parents. Parents want (and need) to trust their children. Trust makes honest communication possible; it builds relational bridges; it gives meaning to our respective roles; it provides security; it stimulates responsibility and caring. If a child never learns to trust, the results can be devastating.

In spiritual terms, we are born with a sinful nature that makes us unable to trust in God on our own. Only when the Holy Spirit has worked his miracle of faith in the heart of a sinner through Word and sacrament does the sinner have the capacity to trust in God’s promises. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are the central truths to which God’s people cling for their well-being. Jesus himself said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me” (John 14:1). So our trust in God comes also as a gift from God. Without it we would be both hopeless and comfortless.

In human terms trusting isn’t a natural reflex either; it must be learned. Even the world of psychology recognizes that children are born without the ability to trust. Developmentally, children learn to trust as they bond with their parents. A child who has never bonded tends to become an insecure, untrust­ing adult.

The bonding process begins already in the womb. As an unborn fetus identifies with the voice of its mother and as her body nurtures the child she is carrying, a bond is being established between mother and child.

After birth, as a mother cares for, holds, feeds, talks to, and in general interacts with her child, the child’s overall sense of stability and predictability is established. If a mother is not emotionally available to a child on a consistent basis, that binding attachment which helps to establish trust is not there.

Soon a child is ready to begin to generalize that trust to others. A child’s loving, trusting relationship with his father is important because a father-child relationship (albeit an imperfect relationship among two sinful people) is an earthly representation of the relationship between a child and his or her heavenly Father. A father who is absent, unloving, or overly critical becomes a stumbling block for his child, making it difficult for the child to comprehend a loving heavenly Father.

Many adults have had to overcome childhood experiences that undermined their trust. Parents who extend their love to a child with forgiveness, honesty, and compassion are helping their child learn to trust people.

12N2026_patientparentingFrom Patient Parenting, by John Juern. © 2006 Northwestern Publishing House. All rights reserved.